You will always have gaps in what you know. How you react to those gaps impacts problem solving, communication, and trust for you and your team. If you’re not aware of your own developmental needs, you may be more confident than you should be, and you may not realize the negative impact this has on you and your business.
Being aware of the different mindsets and attitudes you bring to situations will help you create a learning environment that invites ideas, feedback, and new ways of doing things. More importantly, it challenges and enlarges the “raw material” you draw upon to problem solve and innovate.
Knowers and Learners have been presented as two distinct types of mindsets, in reality, most of us hold an attitude toward learning that falls somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes. Further, our attitude toward learning may vary with different circumstances and learning contexts.
In this past webinar, Rand Stagen and Rick Voirin dive into a full understanding of Knower vs. Learner tendencies, how it impacts the success of your organization, and what you can do to make proactive changes to move into a Learner mindset. Video recording and a full transcription can be viewed below.
Rupe Patel: Okay, thank you for joining us for our very first webinar here at Stagen with the Knower and Learner Mindset. I’m sitting here in Dallas, Texas, in an office with Rand Stagen and Rick Voirin, and we’re looking out at the Katy Trail. It’s a beautiful day. And this webinar represents a pretty big step for us as a firm because this is our first webinar.
To get things started, I’m going to go ahead and introduce the two hosts of this webinar. I’ve got Rick Voirin here next to me. He’s a partner here at Stagen, the chairman, actually, of Stagen. He’s an executive coach, organizational design consultant, adjunct professor at Duke Fuqua School of Business, and a founding member of Conscious Capitalism. Thanks for being here, Rick.
Rick Voirin: Also the old guy in the firm, right?
Rand Stagen: Great to be here with everyone. Looking at the dashboard of who is on the webinar with us live, we’ve got people from all over the country, several names that I actually recognize, so welcome, guys, back into conversation with us. For all those that are new to a conversation with Stagen, this is great to have you here, and then finally, to those who are going to be listening to this webinar, that is outside the live recording, we’re excited to be here with you.
Rick Voirin: Rand, you and I are going to have a conversation today about high-performance learning, the implications that that has on leaders and organizational impact and performance. It occurs to me, though, that there are a lot of folks that are on this call with us today that probably don’t know that much about us, so I wonder if you would take a minute or two, just level set as who are we at Stagen, and what are we up to?
Rand Stagen: Sure. A little bit of helpful context for those that are new on the webinar. Stagen was founded in 1999, so 19 years ago. We built the organization initially with a continued commitment to really work with leaders, committed to two things, long-term personal development and using their organizational platforms, their businesses as vehicles for positive impact in the world.
What you also see up here on this screen is our flagship program, the Integral Leadership Program, that we also call the ILP, and this is the way that we engage all new clients. We’ve had the opportunity to now engage thousands of leaders over the years in the 52-week ILP. You’ll see up here on the screen, designed for leaders who are both sincere and serious about developing themselves. Rick, we’re going to get into a real explanation of what we mean by not just the sincerity of growing and developing, but the seriousness and often the courage that’s required to do that kind of work.
Finally, our programs are 52-week high accountability and practice based. Rick, we’re also going to talk about the role of that word practice in the context of high performing learning. What does it mean to practice? What does it mean to practice with a particular orientation that you’re going to talk about as deliberate practice, and we do all of that within our three content pillars are Stagen, which is leadership, execution, and impact. Obviously, if you want to learn more about us, we invite you visit our website at Stagen.com and learn more about the ILP and other offerings online.
Rick Voirin: By conversation, this webcast is divided largely in two parts. Part one, Rand and I are going to have a conversation around the Knower/Learner Mindsets and the performance paradox coming up. Then the back half of this conversation, we’ll open it up to the questions that we’ll be collecting here asynchronously. Rupe will be monitoring those. He’s with us, and feeding us, so he may interject as the conversation on. We will definitely try to and get to the bulk of the questions here on the back end.
Speaking of that, Rand, leaders come to us in a variety of ways from a variety of organizations, large and small, profit, nonprofit, etc. There is one central theme that seems to come through all of them though, and that’s that they’re trying to improve their individual leader performance or their organizational performance. Create different results. I’ve been taking over the years by a fairly simple and provocative frame that you used to talk about the very challenge that we’re speaking to today.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, and I’ll open up with this detail that you just brought in, which is people who we work with, and I’m going to make an assumption that everyone who is one the webinar right now live or listening to a recording really fits this concept of being a learner. You all wouldn’t be here with us today if there wasn’t some kind of an appetite to grow, to improve, not only to improve yourself, but to improve your team or your organization.
This idea of we all are at our current level of performance. This is one of the big frames that we use, and moving from one level to the next. Becoming more effective and using high performance learning to drive results and different outcomes is ultimately what we see over and over again with those that we have the opportunity to work with.
What you’re going to see on the screen here is a picture of a golfer. We use this image and this metaphor of a golf swing in the context of something we call the performance paradox. The performance paradox is a very powerful idea. I want everyone to imagine who is listening right now, I want you to imagine that for you to have achieved your current level of performance, where you are right now in your life. You can think about this professionally or personally.
You used what we call a winning formula to generate your current condition. That winning formula has all sorts of dimensions and components to it. That winning formula is about your experience, your instincts, your relationships, your technical skills, and those all combine together to create your swing, your winning formula. Like a golfer who is amateur and moves from an amateur level to a professional level, that golfer can be interviewed. He or she could be interviewed and asked, “What is it that you use to ultimately perform? What’s the approach that you use? What’s the psychology of your game? What’s the physicality of your game?”
We would invite everyone in the webinar today to think of yourselves as not athletes in the literal sense, but as this idea of a corporate athlete that was introduced to the marketplace by our friend Tony Schwartz in his Harvard Business Review article years ago by the same name. This idea that as corporate athletes we all have a winning formula. We all have a swing.
Here’s the big idea and the paradox, that the winning formula that got all of us that are on the webinar right now to our current level of performance, that very formula, paradoxically will eventually become the very thing that holds us from going back to our next level. I want to say that again. The winning formula that creates our current level of success will eventually become the very formula that will hold us back from going to our next level. Another colleague and a friend, I believe, of yours one of your inventors, who wrote the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, is really popularizing the same big idea.
Rick Voirin: If there were one high level takeaway on this, it’s you’ve got to be willing to let go of what got you here, made you successful in order to get there, whatever the next there might be for you or the organization.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, and the one thing I want to really set the stage for, for I think the next slide, is this idea of moving beyond just the surface of the statement you just made. That’s great. That sounds really sweet, but the work that’s involved at a mindset level to make that shift is what we’re really going to dive into today.
Rick Voirin: Yeah, to set us up here, we’ll be drawing from a number of researchers and thinkers here, and the concept that we’ll try to lay out, Rand, I think you know that I’m particularly passionate about this, these two in particular. The work that Norman Doidge did, beginning to popularize the concept, neuroplasticity. The fact that by conscious intention and thought and practice, we can actually change the structure of the brain. As the structure of the brain changes, the things that we can think and do change. Athletes have always known this. It’s just now science. It’s been studied with fMRIs, et cetera.
Also the work of Carol Dweck, and she’s been very popular with our leaders coming through the organization. We talk about her frequently. In fact, you’ll see her in this, her idea about mindsets, about how you approach learning and performance, et cetera. The way that your attitude informs that whole process will be a big piece of it. These are just two of the many that we’ll talking with.
Rand Stagen: Sure. Yeah, one of the things that I want to really take advantage of is over the last almost two decades of this work is the capacity that the Stagen faculty has developed, and we continue to develop, of going out and researching and auditing what we consider to be the thought leaders in a variety of different dimensions of leadership.
In this particular case, around high performance learning and mindsets. Then taking those source materials and synthesizing or even distilling down the big ideas into one page, simple frameworks that we then bring into the Integral Leadership Program and other offerings that we have at the graduate level, and then pair those one-page frameworks with a set of practices to help people create real change. I believe we’ve got an example of that coming up right here.
Rick Voirin: Yeah. If I take all that back and I just summarize it, we curate. We synthesize. We simplify, and we make practical the key learnings out there that would be otherwise hard for leaders to come by. Present them in such a way that they can actually work and make them actionable.
Rand Stagen: I love that idea of an actionable insight. In today’s world, where there’s so much great content out there, it requires some level of curation to be able to get at the key ideas that are going to be able to put on the ground in a very practical way in the life of a leader today.
Rick Voirin: That brings us to the Knower Mindset, Learner Mindset. For those of you that are just listening in, we’ve got a slide. It’s a simple one-pager that we use to set up the learning and practice module. We’ll talk about that at the backend of this. That is the throughput or the through-line through all of our work. The orientation to learning is the key here.
Learner and Knower are as mindsets, and then a series of dimensions, and I’ll highlight the dimensions on the screen, and I’ll read them through for the folks that are just listening in. Rand, I’d invite you to just jam on those a little bit, talk about it, and share a few stories to create the context for some questions.
Rand Stagen: Great.
Rick Voirin: The Knower Mindset and the Learner Mindset, right at the outset I want to make sure that we make very clear that what we’re talking about here is the way you orient towards particular aspects or dimensions of this framework. In other words, it’s your attitude that we’re talking about here, not how you’re necessarily wired.
At the top level, you’ve got intelligence and effort. On the Knower side of intelligence and effort, the Knower believes that intelligence is essentially fixed and additional effort does little to enhance it. By contrast, the mindset of the Learner believes that intelligence is essentially fluid and can be significantly increased or changed through time. Referring back to Norman Doidge’s work on brain plasticity and intentional development and practice and it changes the brain and Carol Dweck’s attitude, big pieces here.
You and I have this conversation around leaders all the time, and I know that you’ve probably got a story or two. At least some insight on some of that.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, and there’s so much to discuss here, and as you said, we’re going to move through this framework relatively quickly, so that we can go to the Q&A in about 15 to 20 minutes, and possibly even come back to this slide. There’s some really great material here to re-reference.
At a high level for me, when I look at this idea of intelligence and effort, the big idea here is that the mindset of the Knower feels like things are fixed. Feels like this is just how it is, and more importantly, we hear it all the time from leaders, this is just how I am. One of the things I want to emphasize is when we use the word in this framework intelligence, that the Knower believes that intelligence is fixed, and that the Learner mindset believes that intelligence is fluid, we’re not talking just about the traditional cognitive intelligence.
Rick Voirin: Just not raw know-how.
Rand Stagen: Correct. We’re talking about multiple intelligences, and as a leadership domain one of the most important intelligences is emotional intelligence. For me and for those that are listening and watching, we want you to start to imagine that even the assumptions you’re making about your capabilities today, your emotional capabilities, and you might say, “I’m just not that great at presenting,” or, “I’m just not that great at speaking in front of large groups,” or, “I’m not that great at relating with people,” or, “I’m not that great at doing active listening,” is that you can actually, if you’re in the mindset of the Learner, you can actually see your own capabilities as fluid. Being able to grow new capacities through practice. I think that’s the big thing here is the ability to see one’s self as a constantly evolving capability.
Rick Voirin: Let me throw something here on the back end. Something that you said there reminded me of one simple word that you can add to almost anything that we’ve been saying here, “I’m not that,” or, “I’m not good at it … yet.”
Rand Stagen: Yeah, I like that. Dot, dot, dot.
Rick Voirin: Yet implies the potential for change and development, and that is the very shift that we’re talking about.
Rand Stagen: I wasn’t going to bring this quote in. Those that know me are familiar that this is one of my favorites from Bill Gates. It says most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they could do in 10 years, and so that idea of dot, dot, dot, I would invite everyone to consider how might you be underestimating yourself in the context of your own capabilities. What’s possible if you step into what we call decading, and see this as the long game of learning. I really love the dot, dot, dot.
Rick Voirin: I’ll continue to try to set you up for quotes here. For the next four, you and I, Rand, I think when we were getting ready to do this webcast, I think I’m settled on the idea that these next two key dimensions here for the Knower/Learner mindset fit together nicely. What I’m going to do is I’ll animate the model, and then we’ll have a bit of conversation about them.
We’re going to look first at the attitude toward learning gap. The Knower in that is blind or denies learning gap and is therefore often closed-minded to new ideas or new approaches. Simple doesn’t see, doesn’t know, and/or if they do see or they know, they would choose to either deny or otherwise de-emphasize it.
By contrast, in the attitude towards the learning gap, the Learner recognizes and accepts the gap. There’s always something that I need to learn. There’s always a form of improvement. This is true of athletes, et cetera. Therefore, is open-minded towards new ideas, new approaches. In other words, sees that there’s always something in front of them in terms of future potential and/or improvement.
On the side of feedback, the Knower places little value on feedback, especially feedback that’s inconsistent with perspective that they already have with themselves. In other words, they’re not open or able to listen.
On the Learner’s side by contrast, they actively seek out feedback, especially perspectives that are different from their own. There’s almost a propensity to look for the things that are outside of their comfort zone or what they are experiencing of themselves. You and I have got a ton of experience on this, but at the highest level, we’ve talked about this idea of game filming and learning from that.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, and I love that you brought in the idea of getting outside of their comfort zone and game filming is a term that most people are likely familiar. It comes from the athletic domain initially with football players, where football players were having themselves filmed, and then that film was watched the next day after the game. The evolution of game filming in the NFL has now actually given the ability of athletes to go on to the field, and when they come off the field and literally the offense comes off. Defense goes on. The offensive players are able to sit down with a device, with a laptop device or an iPad device and actually watch themselves at that last play.
This is really important that the highest performers in every domain that we’ve studied and those that we’ve worked with, and those that we’ve researched, they have this appetite to find the gap. To recognize that the gap is there, and to go looking for it with a relentlessness. Obviously, athletes are able to do that, but musicians, musicians will play. They will record themselves, and then they will go and they will stop playing and listen to the recording.
Artists will do the same thing. In our experience with the highest performing leaders, leaders are looking metaphorically for opportunities to game film all the time and acknowledging, “I have gaps everywhere.” What can I do to actually close those gaps? To make this practical and to really get at the courage required to move outside the comfort zone.
Rick Voirin: This is really in gut, isn’t it?
Rand Stagen: This is in the gut. We talk about this idea of head, heart, and gut in some of our expressions of leadership. This is really at the gut. This is a willingness to say, “I’m going to do things that are going to make me uncomfortable.” That at times are going to sting, that are going to feel like, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t seen that.”
Anybody who has ever listened to themselves on a telephone conversation, maybe early in your life, you worked in a call center will know that at the call center level when they say, “These conversations are being recorded for learning purposes,” they are actually playing those back.
We actually did work with a call center once, and the employees would regularly say as their manager was playing back the recording of their conversation, they will say things like, “That’s not me,” even though it actually is their voice having the conversation. It’s very hard to actually face where we are in our gaps. It builds through time, that resilience.
The other thing I would say to you is for anyone on the webinar, when you’re making a presentation to a potential client or a client, or you’re having an internal meeting, are you, as it says here in the Learner mindset, are you actively seeking feedback? What that would look like is you’re in a meeting, internal meeting, and you go to somebody who is in that meeting after the meeting closes, and you say to them, “Hey, can we grab five minutes? How did I show up in that meeting? What worked? What didn’t work? What could I do better the next time I have a high-stakes meeting like this?”
If you’re a manager, and you have employees do you go to your employees and say after the meeting, “How did that meeting work for you? How did I show up? Was I communicating well?” Like it says here in the Learner mindset, actively seeking out the feedback from others. Actively game filming, and then here’s another question. Is your culture such where your employees or your teammates or your colleagues are proactively coming to you and saying, “Hey, Rick. Hey, Rand. Hey, Rupe, the three of us, here’s some feedback for you. I know you’re open to it. I know you want it, even if it’s hard for me to deliver it and hard for you to hear it.” I’m actually part of an organization that values this. This is where really rubber meets the road.
Rick Voirin: Yeah, because we find, I think you and I both, had this, and in fact you and I had this earlier in our relationship 12, 13 years ago of actively seeking feedback, but only getting back from those around you the good stuff. Here’s what worked. I loved it. Fantastic. Great. Not creating the conditions as a leader that opens the door, possibility of really getting at something that you personally could do to improve. Are you creating the conditions in which that can unfold in the culture? I think that’s a big piece of this.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, in fact about an hour-and-a-half ago, I actually recall us having conversation about an engagement that I had with a client, and I was debriefing how I was feeling about it. I noticed in myself that I didn’t want to share with you my own game filming. I had a tough night last night, as I shared with you. I was feeling a level of anxiety. I was feeling a little bit of …
Rick Voirin: Rejection.
Rand Stagen: I was feeling rejected, and I didn’t have that word. It didn’t feel good going to bed last night. It didn’t feel good waking up, and I came to you because we have a commitment to game filming, and I said, “I want to talk about what happened. I want to talk about the phone conversation I had with the client.” You gave me some feedback almost looking at my film, and saying, “I seems like you felt rejected.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly how I felt.” I noticed that this morning how it stung.
Rick Voirin: In the gut.
Rand Stagen: In the gut, and I said to you, “That really stung. Thank you for that,” because that’s what we’ve developed. We’ve developed, because if we’re athletes and you come to me and say, “Hey, Rand, you’re a tennis player, and I want to play back the film, and I want to show you where your gap is,” I need to be able to see that.
Rupe Patel: Actually want to interject here for a second to get a point of clarification. That’s good as conversations between leaders. What are the implications for a leader when their team doesn’t actually feel comfortable doing that and is not actually open to it?
Rand Stagen: It’s a great question, Rupe. There’s no easy answer there. That goes back to the culture that the leader is creating. Here’s the good news. What we found is that when leaders are able to genuinely practice this themselves, and possibly with just one colleague, one person that they have that level of trust and intimacy like Rick and I just modeled, once they develop that in their own capability, that actually through time will become the culture.
People say all the time, “Rand, what’s your biggest insight you’ve had in all your years of doing this work?” As many people know, my big insight is leaders get the organization they deserve. Managers get the department they deserve. If the department, Rupe, to your point is not actually an environment where there is that level of transparency and feedback and game filming, that’s not about the employees. That’s not about the departmental culture. That’s about the human being leading that culture.
The lever to get to a culture at the department or even a company level is the individual leader. This is the work of leadership. It can’t be outsourced.
Rick Voirin: Right. It’s got to be modeled. On that question, so one very practical suggestion, Rupe, as a leader could just go to a subordinate and say, “What’s one thing that I can do differently that would make a difference for you? What’s one thing that I’m doing or failing to do that’s getting in my way of being a better leader?” Start to invite the feedback, and not simply wait on the feedback.
Rupe Patel: Yeah, and this is in an informal setting, not as a formal review of some.
Rick Voirin: No, this is just a hallway conversation. It’s not drop in the office. This is not putting anybody under the fence. It’s really how do I create the conditions in which my organization becomes willing to put feedback into the mix for all of us, that we’re all learning? The leader has to model that.
Rand Stagen: Here’s the cool part. Let’s say, Rupe, that we were to go out and play tennis, and we had employees, subordinates, that watched us and then actually had some perspective that we couldn’t see, and we walked up and said, “What are you noticing?” They might say, “Rupe, I’m noticing that every time you do your backhand, you’re overextending yourself, and you seem off-balance.” You’re like, “Really? I didn’t realize that.”
If they were filming it, they could play it back, and you’d be like, “Wow, I had no idea that I was overextending myself.” Here’s the cool part. Our employees, even if they’re subordinates, our employees can see things about our performance that we can’t see. The question is, do we have the courage and do we have the fortitude to actually do what Rick is saying and just go out and seek in very pedestrian, informal ways what can I do to do better? What’s working? What’s not working?
Sometimes it’s called start-stop-continue. What should I start doing that I’m not doing? What should I stop doing? What should I continue to do to be a better leader to you, employee?
Rupe Patel: Bottom line, model the way.
Rand Stagen: Model the way.
Rupe Patel: Got you. Thanks.
Rick Voirin: That brings us to the next image of the Knower/Learner mindset, and that’s competency and when it’s challenged. On the Knower side, when competency is challenged, the Knower is preoccupied with preserving the appearance of competence. Staying on top, reacts defensively when challenged.
On the Learner side, Learner readily acknowledges incompetence. Get that, readily acknowledges their own incompetence or the gap, and embraces the challenge as an opportunity to learn and improve. I know this was a rich part of our conversation. We’ve got some great examples here, maybe one or two in the mix.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, you’ve already highlighted this idea that to get into a mindset of Learner that says, “I have incompetence everywhere. I have gaps everywhere, and the only way that I’m going to close those gaps is being open to them.” When we look at the mindset of the Knower, which we are incredibly familiar with, the mindset of the Knower is this defensiveness that can come up.
When they get feedback, when these people get feedback, and they’re in that orientation, and that feedback is inconsistent with their sense of self, and they get, quote, defensive. Whose defensiveness is that? That’s the beauty. You and I were talking a few days ago. You’re like, “What are they defending?”
Rick Voirin: Yeah. What are they defending?
Rand Stagen: What are they defending? Here’s what I propose most of the time they’re defending. They’re defending their current winning formula. They’re defending the very thing that got them the seat on the bus, and unfortunately, they may be stuck in that seat because they’re not open. If you’re defending yourself, how are you ever going to be open?
It would be like pushing away game film if you’re an athlete. “I don’t want to look at that. I don’t want to look at that. I’m getting angry at the person who’s bringing the physical, the video tape over on the television screen,” and saying, “No, I’m not going to look at that.” Why would someone not want the benefit of the feedback?
The mindset of the Learner here is really tricky for people. We hear it all the time. You’re saying, Rick, that you don’t want me to be an expert? But I’m an expert in my area of expertise. We’re like, we want you to be knowledgeable without having the mindset of a Knower. We want you to be knowledgeable and be oriented to your own learning and development, and we want you to be able to be decisive, and we want you to be able to be an expert in your field.
This is something I’d rather get into the Q&A on because we hear it all the time. “I’m confused. You don’t want me to know, and you want me to learn,” and we’re saying we want you to be knowledgeable, and we want you to learn, just like we talk about in our learning module in learning and practice. We talk about surgeons. Surgeons, especially high-performing surgery like open-heart surgery, they get the constant cycles in the feedback. They’re highly knowledgeable, but they’re always learning because they’re constantly in an environments where they’re getting feedback.
Rick Voirin: They know they’re learning. This reminds me, 30-second sidebar story of one of the famous physicists of the 20th century, Richard Feynman, was introduced in a very particular kind of way, over-the-top kind of way at a speech that he gave as being the leading expert in quantum physics. When Feynman came up, he said, “Just so that we’re clear, my definition of expert is just a person who’s had made more mistakes in the field than anyone else. If I’m the expert, that just means I’m biggest fool in the audience.”
Let’s move onto the last one and see if we can get through this one, get ourselves set up for the Q&A session of this. The last dimension here is experiences, mistakes as setbacks or challenges. The Knower experiences mistakes and setbacks as frustrating failures, possibly even proof of their own inability, and often misses the learning opportunity. It’s a missed opportunity here when there’s a failure.
By contrast, the Learner experiences mistakes and setbacks as a natural part of the learning curve. You don’t get better without making mistakes and learning. Confirmation of effort. Effort that they’re actually trying to do things different. That’s a big piece of this.
They persist in the face of frustration. Frustration is really just a sense of there’s a gap. I’m consciously incompetent at this. I don’t know what I’m doing. At least, I know that I don’t know what I’m doing.
Rand Stagen: Yeah. I’m just going to put a word on here to cap off this dimension, which is innovation. If we’re in the mindset of Knower, we hear it all the time. “We want our company to become more innovative.” Another way of saying, “We want our company to become more innovative,” is, “We want our company to have more human beings who are able to get into the mindset of the Learner,” so that they can actually recognize and celebrate those mistakes.
The founder of IDEO, Tom Kelley. He talks about his orientation to mistakes. Fail fast to succeed sooner. You want to fail, and celebrate those failures quickly, so you can actually succeed sooner, which is how software development is done from an Agile standpoint, and what we are always encouraging leaders to do is see this idea of celebrating failures like the Japanese did when they were creating their approach to process improvement and kaizen and what ultimately became Six Sigma and Lean, is this idea that we’re going to celebrate failures.
Every time we fail, that’s an opportunity to learn something. We don’t want to have those same failures repeating. We want to have those big failures once, get the learning, and then the opportunity here is to earn the right to actually fail in even a more epic way in the future for a more epic learning.
Rick Voirin: Yeah, it feels for most of us who haven’t adopted this orientation, it feels like a failure is a setback. It’s actually a fall forward. It’s a movement in the future direction, whatever it is you’re trying to create. All the way back to that opening slide of the performance paradox. You’re actually underperforming at times, even as you’re moving forward.
Rand Stagen: That’s right.
Rupe Patel: I’m going to interject with a question here. This notion of failing and being comfortable to fail, again, really great when you’re at the top and you only have yourself to answer to, and you have to live with repercussions, and you know that. As a team member, what actually happens when you’re in a situation where failing, or what are the implications for a team member who experiences failure from the potential Knower perspective versus the Learner perspective?
Rand Stagen: I think it’s a great question. I’ll give Rick a chance to build on this or offer something a little bit different. For me, the power of a common member of a team, not the top of the organization, to be able to understand these subtleties of the Knower and Learner, and to be able to have a failure, and instead of hiding the failure, or instead of being embarrassed about the failure, being able to put, and maybe they write up a little one-pager. Maybe they do an email that says, “We or our team tried something, and it failed. It didn’t hit what we wanted it to hit. Here is the learning we got from it, and here’s how we’re going to use the learning to change our approach to this situation the next time.”
If I’m a leader, and I have an employee that comes to me that is celebrating the failure because the learning, and they’re actually making the learning actionable as Rick talked about, an actionable insight, I’m going to be as a leader at the top of an organization much more inclined to see that as a positive as opposed to a negative.
Unfortunately, Rupe, and whoever asked that question, so many cultures actually want to hide failure. They want to make failure bad, but how do we innovate unless we fail? I would say there’s an opportunity to lead bottom-up there, and then if the person who’s asking this question says, “But I work in an organization where even that would not be well received,” then I would encourage them to find an organization that is a better fit for this kind of mindset. The organizations of the future, and whether we’re looking at the clichés today like Tesla or Netflix, they live by these principles of the Learner orientation.
Rupe Patel: Yeah, that’s a good point you actually bring up, which is a lot of these innovation-front organizations that you might actually experience by an app or on the web are constantly putting out things that have bugs. Not major bugs, but enough bugs to learn from. There are actually processes in which they’re trying to sort through those bugs, learn from it, and get better to actually get to a product that people actually integrate into their everyday life.
Rick Voirin: Yeah. Bottom line on that is your attitude matters, and the organization’s attitude matters. If that’s not a good fit, either way, move on and find something else because as a leader you’ve got an opportunity and responsibility that goes with that.
Rand Stagen: I know we’ve probably got about five more minutes or less of slides, and then we can just open it up for more questions.
Rick Voirin: On the front end, I opened up and said our work is informed by this. This particular module is informed by a variety of researchers and thinkers. On the front end it was Norman Doidge and neuroplasticity and Carol Dweck and the idea of mindsets.
Remember at the very beginning we talked about the idea of intentional practice. You can change your mindset through intentional practice. The back half of this, last couple of research that we’ll bring into the mix, Anders Ericsson and others who back in the mid-2000s wrote a book called “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance“.
The key idea here that Anders and others were looking into is what does it take to become an expert at anything? This was not an easily accessible book unless you’re a geek like me. It’s about 800 pages. It’s a really difficult read. It’s got some wonderful stuff in it, but the bottom line is it gets to what does it take to become an expert at anything? It’s an awful lot of practice into to getting better.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “Outliers” when he was talking about Gates and others, who just early in childhood started doing things, pointed to this idea, this almost magical number of 10,000 hours, of doing something for 10,000 hours, and you become expert. You become good at it.
While that was a really useful concept, it missed a piece. It missed a really important piece in tying all this together, and thankfully Anders came back with his colleagues, and he wrote a follow-up book called “Peak: The Secret and the New Science of Expertise“.
Here’s the key idea. This is what ties this all together. It’s the idea of intentional, deliberate practice. A pulling of the idea of improving, of driving into the future with an attitude change, of orienting yourself to the learning gap, and of designing practices around that. I know you’ve got a thought or two about those practices and coaches and experts as well.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, and what I appreciated in the 2016 book of Peak where Anders was able to appreciate what Malcolm Gladwell did in popularizing the idea of 10,000 hours, and also popularizing something that created for many a misunderstood concept. Which is, all I’ve got to do if I want to become an expert at golf or leadership or playing a musical instrument, is I’ve just got to spend 10,000 hours doing that.
What was clarified is this idea that it’s 10,000 hours in a deliberate way. Our next slide is actually from the book, Peak, and it talks about the five key dimensions of deliberate practice. Dimension number one, set specific goals. This is really important. Based on what? Based on best practices.
Rick Voirin: That’s the gap.
Rand Stagen: That’s the gap. Don’t set goals based on your own sense of what success looks like, and then spend 10,000 hours working towards that. It’s based on best practices. Second dimension here is to practice with full attention. We would call that consciousness or awareness. The third one, which you talked about several times, pushing beyond your comfort zone. The work of the gut.
The fourth one, and I gave some examples of this with the NFL today, is obtain immediate feedback. The picture of somebody putting in golf would be a corollary to the NFL, being able to come right off the field and be able to look at a screen and see their performance.
This fifth one, I actually think is the most important, and what the book Peak really went after in trying to bring the record straight around the 10,000 hours. Seek guidance from experts, coaches, and mentors. Don’t just practice. Practice in relationship to those who have expertise that you do not have.
This is the work of taking the hallmarks of the Knower mindset to the Learner mindset, and saying, okay, I’m drawn to, I’m bought into this idea of the power of the Learner mindset. Then here’s the key. How do I take those ideas and, quote, practice with them and put them on the ground?
Rick Voirin: The take home value here is if you take the one-pager that we just animated, we’ll show this again on the back end, you apply these key steps to that one page, you’re going to improve.
Rand Stagen: Correct.
Rick Voirin: You’re going to improve. Rand, I’m going to get us moving relatively quickly into Q&A, so let me create a little bit of additional value here for all of us in our learning. As you said at the very beginning, and Rupe also mentioned, this is our first. We’re actually practicing the very thing that we’re preaching. This is our very first go at something like this.
Rand Stagen: We’re getting outside our own comfort zone and moving into new territory, that is new for us, and we’ve been doing it under the expert guidance of outside help that understands the webinar world. We’re doing our best to walk our talk around this.
Rick Voirin: Right. We’re trying to learn in the process as well. We want to create value on these things. We want to get the message out into a broader public. Whether you engage with us, or some other organization out there that can help you get from where you are right now to the future that we’re all trying to create, we’d encourage you to do that. We want to get better. Help us do that. At the end of this webinar, we’ll be sending out a survey to all of you out there.
We’ve got a brand new, re-edited updated learning and practice module. This is one little piece of it. It’s a fairly extensive well researched, well documented module. There’s tremendous value in it by itself. We’re going to give to all of you that respond to the survey on the back end of this. We’ll learn from your feedback, and you’ll win by having a learning and practice module take home value.
Rand Stagen: Even though we’ve got people on the webinar today that have been exposed to the learning and practice module from Stagen, this module is just updated and introduced only a few months ago. Very few of our members have actually seen it. It’s got some really wonderful additions.
Rick Voirin: This is a very significant rewrite.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, absolutely.
Rick Voirin: Alright. Let’s get into the Q&A, Rupe.
Rupe Patel: Yeah, so I’ve got a question here that’s actually pretty interesting. What happens when you learn something specific? Are you Knower at that specific strategy? At what time do you stop learning a specific strategy? I think this actually speaks to a little bit of clarity of mindset.
Rick Voirin: When you move from knowing to learning to knowing?
Rupe Patel: Right.
Rand Stagen: I just love the question. As I said, we hear it all the time of the struggle between, “I want to be good at what I do. I want to have expertise, and I want to be what is traditionally thought as knowing.” What we’re really trying to get at here, recognizing that there’s subtlety is to be an expert, and to still have an orientation to learning, to always be learning.
Rick gave an example of a lecture of a brilliant scientist. I had the opportunity to meet Peter Koestenbaum, who is arguably the most accomplished, academically accomplished, person I’ve ever had a conversation with. He’s got four degrees, Harvard, Boston College, Stanford. He’s a physicist. He’s a psychologist. He’s a philosopher. He’s got PhDs, masters, amazing guy. He’s written dozens of books. He was in his 80s when I met him.
Rick Voirin: He’s worked with some of the biggest CEOs in the world.
Rand Stagen: Coached some of the biggest CEOs in the world, and I sit down with him. I had an opportunity to spend a day with him, one-on-one, thinking to this question, Rupe, that I was going to spend time with THE guru and expert in his domain. We sat down, and he basically said, “Rand, what you and your team at Stagen Leadership Academy are going is so fascinating to me. I’m just so in awe of what you’re doing, and I want to spend our time learning from you because relative to you, I don’t really think I’ve done very much.”
I was like totally back on my heels. I was like, this is crazy that this guy is showing up, in his 80s, with this orientation that I’m learning. People always say, “Wait a second. How do I do that?” What he modeled for me is he modeled the definition of humility, given to me by Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, adjunct faculty here at Stagen, and a dear friend. He said, “Rand, humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking more of others.”
To not think less of yourself, to not shrink down, but think more of others. My experience of this incredibly knowledgeable expert was that he sat down with me, and he actually saw me as from a servant leader orientation of how does he think more of everyone he’s around. It had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Peter, and he was playing so big in that moment for me. It was really great. Maybe we have another question to build on.
Rupe Patel: Yeah, we have another question here. When you approach situations as a Learner, but are in a room full of Knowers, how do you stay in your zone?
Rand Stagen: I’m going to give Rick that one.
Rick Voirin: We model what we teach. I think, Rupe, for me it ties to what Rand just said. I’ll say it ever so slightly differently is I typically feel pretty good about what I think I know. There’s a key phrase in there, what I think I know.
If on the back end of knowing something and putting that out into a group of Learners, I say something to effect of, “Here’s what I think, and there might be more. Here’s what I think, and I might be wrong. Here’s what I think, and what do you think?” What I’m inviting is in the conversation.
I can’t change somebody from a Knower to a Learner. Only they can do that themselves, but I can enroll them or invite them into a conversation or a question that they don’t have an easy answer for. Once we’ve got a question that we don’t have an easy answer for, the Learner naturally comes online. That’s the shift. The shift is to find the questions that you can’t answer.
Rand Stagen: In my answer, and it’s a tough question because it’s common is it goes back to the responsibility of leadership. For the person who’s offering that question, that’s probably giving an experience of their reality. Wow, I find myself in meetings with people that are appearing to have this mindset of the Knower, and it’s difficult to implement some of the things we’re talking about.
I would say figure out how to influence, even some small way, the leader of that team or the leader of the organization. How goes the leader, so goes the culture. If you’re at a company where there is a lot of knowing, a lot of the Knower mindset in a systemic level, if it’s in the zeitgeist or the ethos of your company, the reality is that that’s coming from the top. I’ve never seen an exception to that.
The great thing is I can go into an organization, and I can meet the organization through its culture and its people, and I can actually get a sense of the human beings who lead the organization, even if I never meet them. We all do this. We go to Starbucks, and we experience Starbucks, and that is a reflection of the consciousness of the leaders, in its strengths and its weaknesses.
Rupe, I would say this one is, there’s no easy answer here except it’s all about the leader and the leaders, and the mood contagion that happens in leadership, it leaks the Knower mindset. If it’s embedded in the leader of a team or an organization, it leaks into the organization, and it almost creates that as the DNA of the system.
Rupe Patel: Yeah, so related to that is another question. How often do Learners backslide into Knowers? Is it moment by moment? After two years? I think this speaks to the fluidity, which comes from the same place as how it leaks, for instance.
Rick Voirin: Let me add a caveat to that question because I want you to personally maybe respond to this. How do you know or recognize that you’ve drifted back into Knower?
Rand Stagen: I can tell you from last night’s conversation with the client we talked about. I slip back into the mindset of the Knower every day, so many times a day, that I can’t even count. Most of the time, I’m not even aware that it’s happening.
However, I have an early warning system that tells me that I’m in my own Knower orientation, which is my defensiveness. Which is my negativity that I feel in myself, when I feel a sense of, “Wow, I feel just in my system bad, and I want to defend.” When I feel defensive, I go, “Oh, what a gift.”
I actually got feedback that actually has me noticing my own defensiveness because the defensiveness, and this is what we say to people, whose defensiveness is that? Whose frustration, irritation, anger is that? The answer is, it’s mine. What we typically do is we project it onto the other person. He made me mad. She made me mad. No. I am mad. I am mad.
Rupe Patel: What you’re saying is the practice because another question from Michelle, who’s a dear friend of the firm, about what practices do you favor to basically know how to operate or know when you’re showing up as Knower vs. a Learner? What I heard you say was, it’s noticing a certain feeling in your body.
Rand Stagen: Noticing when I am defensive, angry, or irritated in relationship to others, and recognizing that organizational life is a feedback rich environment, and what a gift it is to be in a leadership role. Whether you’re at the top or the middle or the bottom of an organization. We all are leaders. What a gift it is to be a leader because the gift of feedback, the gift of noticing, “Wow, I’m upset, angry, or irritated,” and Rupe, this takes the courage. To be able to see the people in our lives that when we’re around them, we are the most irritated, the most frustrated, the most defensive, the most judgmental. Those people, I believe, have been put in our lives to be our greatest teachers.
The greatest teachers in our lives are the people, that when we’re in their presence, we are the most irritated and defensive. What a gift. What a gift to have people exposing our blind spots, and is this easy medicine? No. Did I feel good last night? No. Did I feel good talking to Rick, and saying what I felt. No.
It doesn’t feel good to be an athlete to look their film and say, “I can’t believe that I was overextending there. I can’t believe I was doing that with my feet. I can’t believe I was doing that with my posture.” Wow, what a gift it is, even though it’s hard. It’s such a cliché. It’s like a breakfast cereal. The breakfast of champions, feedback. It’s the prize inside. It’s tough.
Rick Voirin: One last thing. Before we move onto the next question, I don’t want to lose sight of this one point here. You can’t always know in the moment, but you can know after the fact with just a little reviewing of yourself, looking back over the day. Where was I defensive? Where did I miss? What didn’t feel good in a conversation? Which is what we processed this morning.
Rand Stagen: That’s right.
Rick Voirin: Just a regular practice of journaling and/or looking back over the course of a day, these kinds of instances show up bright.
Rand Stagen: Absolutely. I’m reminded of, I know we’re getting close to wrapping, I’m reminded of Ellen Langer from Harvard. The social psychologist who has popularized, been one of the big populizers of this idea of mindfulness, but then her work in the ’70s actually began with mindlessness. She said to us when we were on the phone in that tele-class most people just aren’t there. They’re not there to know that they’re not there. Right? I agree with you, Rick, that we have to have a practice that allows us to reconnect with our moments of mindlessness.
Rupe Patel: Okay. Final question. This comes from Corey Blake, so you’ll recognize the language here, but, “I’ve been working hard or imperfectly for years to hang out in the Learning mindset. Sometimes I see that as living in the gray as opposed to black and white, and while I love being the Learner, I can take it too far. In particular, when my firm or my company needs me to be fixed and strong in a point of view.” Can we take the Learner mindset too far, and when is living from the Knower mindset more appropriate?
Rand Stagen: Yeah, the short answer is yes. In my experience, we can take the principles we’ve talked about too far. In leadership, when we talk about leadership, Rick and I are really assuming that we’re all recognizing the idea of conscious leadership. As Rick said, intentional, deliberate, conscious leadership.
If I’m a leader, and I am versatile. I think what Corey’s getting at is where is the versatility here? I need go know when it’s appropriate. I’ll go back to tennis. When is it appropriate to use the forehand, and Corey has some great skills because I know who this is, on being able to be transparent and vulnerable and open and inviting feedback. That would be like a forehand for an athlete.
There’s also times when the ball is actually needing a backhand. We’re not going to be able to use the same leadership strategy in every environment. We have to have the awareness and the consciousness to be able to move from one particular application or communication style to another. Are there times that I feel like I need to present myself? I wouldn’t say as a Knower, but to present myself as a concrete, black-and-white, and decisive? Yes.
Rupe Patel: Absolutely.
Rand Stagen: Absolutely. There are other times where I present myself with vulnerable strength, another paradox, and say, “That is a really good question. I don’t know the answer to that.” I have to choose when do I bring that level of vulnerability versus when do I bring a clear, decisive point of view? That’s the athlete that builds her versatility from one dimension of the game to the other, or his versatility from one dimension to another.
Rupe Patel: That’s a great response. Real quick, Rick, because you and I talked about this, and we got this great question. I love this question actually. Got any favorite Learners from movie or TV? It goes back to the slide of the two characters we were going to originally put up in this webinar.
Rick Voirin: Superman and MacGyver.
Rand Stagen: You’re old. People who are young don’t know what MacGyver is.
Rick Voirin: I’m sure there is a new MacGyver out there somewhere? His last name was Anderson that played it. MacGyver was a program back in the, gosh, ’70s, ’80s, whatever it was now. MacGyver was a bit of a secret agent, like a CIA type. He didn’t know a lot about one particular thing, but he knew a lot about a lot of things. He would be put into these ridiculous situations with nothing but a paper clip and bubblegum and a piece of paper to get out of a rock-solid prison. There was always a way.
Rand Stagen: Maybe a rubber band too.
Rick Voirin: The key idea with MacGyver is there’s always a way. What do I have available to me right now, and how do I use these things in different ways? What else might there be here? Even more important, how else could I use this thing, other than like a paper clip? What else is it? It’s a throwaway one, but that’s the idea. MacGyver’s basic orientation to life was there’s always something more here that I can do, see, learn, or change.
Rand Stagen: That’s a great character. I would ditto that one, as another semi-old guy.
Rupe Patel: All right, that concludes Stagen’s very first webinar. As Rick mentioned, please fill out the survey. Give us some feedback so we can learn. I think we’re giving you a great exchange with the learning and practice module on the back end.
Rand Stagen: Yeah, use that module, guys. Get this recording, share it with your friends. Share it with the world. We want to get the message of the power of being a conscious leader and being a Learner out to the world, so that more people are equipped with these tools to make a difference.
Rick Voirin: Most importantly, for all of us make a difference with your one life. Make a difference with what’s coming through you. Your leadership matters. Do what you have to do to improve and have a positive impact on the world. Go forth, gang. Thanks for joining us here today on our first. We look forward to having you with us on future episodes.